But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
-Jesus, Matthew 23:8
One of the things I think we miss in our crusade against hierarchy is the simple way Jesus taught us to avoid it. Simply put, brotherhood is the antidote to hierarchy.
Quickly: Hierarchy is a word that means there are some people or things higher than others. It was first a word used to distinguish orders of angels, then to distinguish rank among ministers in the church, and then came to be used in society and business management. Why is it bad? Jesus had this revolutionary idea that there shouldn’t be hierarchy within the movement He started. I believe He saw the danger it caused when people thought some of God’s people were better than others.
Jesus not only warned us about hierarchy, though. He gave us the solution to it. The solution isn’t limiting our uniqueness or hiding our giftedness. The solution to the problem of hierarchy is becoming brothers*. If you’ve ever had brothers (or been fortunate enough to have friends that are like brothers) you’ll know why. Brotherhood growing up is one of the first forms of communitas that we come to understand. Healthy brotherhood gives everyone a place without elevating men or women above one another.
I had the unique privilege growing up of watching my dad interact with his father and three brothers. My dad was the youngest of five children, younger by about ten years than his next oldest brother. And yet, when my dad and his brothers got together there was no struggle for superiority. When my grandfather passed away, no one tried to become the new leader of the family. There was no struggle for grandpa’s status. It was just the brothers (and my aunt of course) still being family. They knew who they were (sons and the daughter of Albert Kolder) and they knew each other well enough to respect but not glorify any of the others.
Imagine a church like that. A church where every person who was following Jesus didn’t strive for position. No one tried to become the father of the family. Everyone was confident in their place in the spiritual family. They knew their identity and their value. In fact, they were so healthy as brothers and sisters, they eventually matured to the place where they were healthy enough to start families of their own.
Yet even among churches that hate hierarchy the most (which I would argue comes with its own set of problems), there is little expression of brotherhood. And so suspicion, animosity, and a lack of love often result. It’s a little like a country who hates an evil ruler of another country. So they depose the the ruler of that country and install another, only to find out that the new ruler is just as bad or worse than the one they installed. The fear of hierarchy becomes as bad of a ruler for a church as any hierarchy ever would.
But Jesus taught us a better way. If we would learn to be brothers and sisters, hierarchy would whither as a result. How do we learn to be brothers and sisters? More on that tomorrow…
*If you’re reading this and you’re a lady, know that brotherhood is merely a the best word that I can use. God calls us all sons regardless of our gender. I get to be part of the bride of Christ some day. We all have…ahem…gender terms…in the Bible that don’t make us comfortable. Know you’re included.
Community. We all want it. Some of us want it so much that we’ll chase from church to church, person to person, trying to find it.
But community for community’s sake is flawed. In the end it actually kills us. If we pursue community for the sake of having a community for ourselves, we’re really just pursuing an idol that we hope will take care of our us.
But instead, I want to suggest we search for communitas*. For most of us, communitas is a strange word, but it describes the very essence of community that is formed among a group of peers when they go through a dangerous or disorienting experience.
That’s a lot of jargon for something we all know: When you go through something difficult with a group of people, the experience changes you. And it doesn’t just change you, but every person in the group is linked more tightly because of what they’ve experienced.
Think of the WWII or Vientam vets who haven’t seen their fellow soldiers in decades. Yet you put those same guys in a room and give them a little space and it seems as if only minutes had passed since the last time they were together. It’s the same way with guys who have been part of a stable and healthy recovery group or those friends that went with you on that missions trip that one time.
In each scenario, a group of people find themselves in a risky or unknown situation and work through it. You all learn to depend on each other, compensate for each others’ weaknesses, and know each others’ strengths. You bond with each other because you’ve been through some things together. It’s communitas, and it beats community every single time.
The problem with church is that it can look a lot more like a book club than a mission trip. There’s no risky venture attempted with a group of people. Many churches lack the faith of leap. And so they can have as many potlucks and Bible studies as they want to, but community never forms.
I’ve watched house churches struggle with this as well. They’ve pursued perfecting their community before they try to reach out to the lost. They really wanted to be united and built up to the place where they feel they can go on mission together. They pursued community and missed communitas.
But I’ve also seen house churches catch the Lord’s heart for the lost in a way that compels them to take the gospel to dangerous places. These people probably are just as young and immature, but they leap together, putting their trust in Jesus to fill in the gaps. Do things always go perfectly? Rarely. But communitas–the true spirit of community–gets formed in those house churches and a lost world gets reached in the process.
There is a world out there looking for community. They’ll do anything they can to get it. Jesus promised us that if we tried to keep/save our lives we would lose them, but if we laid down our lives for His sake and the sake of the Gospel, we would find it. I believe if we seek community for its own sake we will never find it. But if we lay down our lives and do the dangerous work of bringing Jesus’ message to those who are far from Him, we will find community in deep and rich ways we never thought possible.
So don’t look for community, look for communitas.
* I am again indebted to Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch for their profound book on this subject: The Faith of Leap (affiliate link).
Every week here at Pursuing Glory I try to bring together the best posts I’ve found that will equip the end-times church to operate in her God-ordained destiny. These are the best blogs, articles, books and other resources related to our purpose here at this site. Feel free to visit, comment, and make use of the resources found at each site.
This week marks the return of me to blogging after letting that part of my life slide for a few weeks. I’ve had a chance to hang out with some of the coolest people who aren’t part of our house church recently. However that time spent has taken me away from writing, so I’m going to try and get back in the swing of things. This post represents the best posts from the last few weeks. Enjoy!
I think that Jesus is most frequently the part of community that we leave out when we begin to discect a Christian community. Alan writes about Jesus’ centrality in a way that makes his whole discussions on the elements of a church more palatable than most similar discussions.
One of the things that gets left out of most discussions about discipleship is the necessity of being able to make other disciples. Here Ray writes about the paradox of following Jesus and leading others into following Him.
One of the shifts that I’ve seen help people move from a static church mindset into a movement mindset is discovering the spirit of multiplication that the apostles walked in. Here J.D. talks about how that happens with a group people who currently have no vision for reproducing churches.
One of the common misconceptions in the body of Christ is that house churches in the third world are effective because persecution happening around them fuels evangelism and discipleship. Actually persecution causes the church to return to her organic roots and when she does that, she spreads quickly and naturally.
With the house church movement in the United States as new as it is, little has been written about what mature house church networks look like. This post has an incredible visual that says volumes about how a network of house churches can function interdependently.